My Adoptive Parents Hid My Racial Identity From Me For 19 Years
April 4, 2019 9:31 AM   Subscribe

Melissa Guida-Richards's parents told her and her brother that, like them, they were ethnically Italian and Portuguese, and did not tell them they were actually adopted and had been born in Colombia.
posted by larrybob (44 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ah, another kidnapped child from South America. Wonderful.

But, instead, it taught me that my ethnicity was something to be ashamed of. It was something to be hidden.

The "let's all be color blind" white liberal do-goodism that she and I both grew up with is quite a legacy. I hope that more gets written about it.
posted by Melismata at 10:05 AM on April 4 [12 favorites]


This is gaslight-y in the extreme. Wow.
posted by coffeeand at 10:25 AM on April 4 [5 favorites]


This wasn't just lying to and gaslighting a child. The parents also denigrated the country she was taken from, likely in an attempt by the parents to feel better about what they did. And she still eventually went and reconciled with them, because family.

This was one of the better outcomes, because the white liberal parents weren't a pair of actively ideological abusers. The thousands of forcibly adopted children that will have been taken by the end of Trump regime in 2028 will undoubtedly be far worse off.
posted by happyroach at 11:18 AM on April 4 [13 favorites]


Ah, another kidnapped child from South America. Wonderful.

Wow. With due respect, this is strikes me as a reductive and hurtful statement. And not my lived experience at all. I'm a South American adoptee and I would DEFIANTLY identify as "not kidnapped." To suggest that adoptive parents are inclined, by virtue of engagement in transnational arrangement, to be kidnappers, do-gooders, altruists, colonizers, white liberals, etc., is deep, uncharitable oversimplification. (In fairness: though my folks are not liberal, they are hella effin' white).

I've got ~massive issues~ with my cultural upbringing, as do many transracial/transnational adoptees, but they're largely the legacy of systemic racism, inc. the minimization of ethnic identity, a paucity of opportunities to engage with my latinx roots, and a very small peer affinity group. And while my parents inadvertently perpetuated some of this, it wasn't for lack of love, earnest engagement, or deep concern about their own intentions. Like you, I hope more is written about it.

That said, I think it's unwise flatten the adoptive experience to a phrases as glib as "kidnapped child." The adoptive experience is diverse and nuanced. It's still in the closet. And to sell adoption as a story of kidnapping/exploitation/something inherently offensive seems like it may further discourage others (me included!) who want to share details of a complex human experience without fear of evincing some kind of Stockholm syndrome.

tldr; I'm just one of tens of thousands of adoptees/adoptive families who hate the idea of their family structure being subject, even in silliness, to the label 'kidnapping.'
posted by mr. remy at 11:32 AM on April 4 [109 favorites]


Are we sure that the parents in this article are liberals? The article doesn't say so; instead, it says that the author's family trafficked in negative stereotypes about Latinos while claiming to be "colorblind", and that her mom was raised with the belief that good wives need to bear children. Of course, some liberals do and believe such things, but they read more conservative to me.
posted by burden at 11:50 AM on April 4 [8 favorites]


Huh...That was interesting. Obviously I don't know what it's like to walk in her shoes, but it seems like the big betrayal/secret here is not to have told her she was adopted. Hiding her ethnicity from her (i.e. claiming that her ethnicity was their ethnicity) seems like just a necessary* part of that.

Also, I mean maybe it's a reaction to being lied to ...but..I find "conversions" of all kinds hard to grok. So she grew up thinking she was ancestrally and culturally Portuguese and Italian. It turns out she's ancestrally Colombian, but she was still raised in Portuguese-American/Italian-American household, so that's still her culture. Did she speak Portuguese and Italian before and she's now abandoned them because she's no longer ancestrally Portuguese and Italian and replace them with Spanish? If she didn't feel like she needed to speak her ancestral language when it was Portuguese and Italian, why is it different when that language is Spanish? Presumably a reaction against the lie?

Being lied to sucks, but it just seems like the ethnicity thing is just a side effect of the adoption lie and I'm not really seeing it as the central betrayal or getting why she feels like that part is a particularly big deal.

* By which I mean if you're going to claim a kid is biologically yours, you can't do that without claiming that they share your ethnicity. So it's necessary for the lie, though I'm not saying at all that the lie is necessary.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:04 PM on April 4 [15 favorites]


I don't love the "let's all be colorblind even if it means lying to your children and sideways denigrating another country."

Nor do I love the racial essentialism embedded in the author's use of language like "my Colombian culture" and "my langauge," as if her genes or melanin concentration gave her some obvious claim on Colombian-ness. Nor is she on particularly firm ground to Educate her family about "cultural issues other Latinx people face."

If she feels drawn to a Latinx identity on account of her heritage, that's her prerogative of course. But the article implies that this identity is somehow inevitable or correct, and as such reproduces the sort of essentialism that underlies some of the shittiest attitudes about race and identity.
posted by andrewpcone at 12:27 PM on April 4 [30 favorites]


it just seems like the ethnicity thing is just a side effect of the adoption lie and I'm not really seeing it as the central betrayal or getting why she feels like that part is a particularly big deal

Her parents actively discouraged her from hanging out with other Latinxs. She knew she was different but they prevented her from something that would help her feel better about herself. It may be because I am also Latinx and have some complicated family feelings, but this part seems obvious to me.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:28 PM on April 4 [11 favorites]


If she didn't feel like she needed to speak her ancestral language when it was Portuguese and Italian, why is it different when that language is Spanish? Presumably a reaction against the lie?

Call me when anybody who claims to be ethnically Portuguese or Italian gets immediately presumed to be a speaker of those languages the way someone does who mentions being Colombian or Mexican. It is, as they say, A Thing. I am a mixed-race Latinx person who is also learning Spanish as an adult because it is so much a part of owning that identity in a way that speaking Italian is not.

Just in general, if you're white and you don't think it's a big deal to discover that your overtly racist parents raised you as white when you weren't, maybe just... try to think a little more about what that would be like, to know your own parents are disgusted by part of what you are. My racist white mother at least didn't say anything overtly about Mexicans until I was an adult, and she at least has the "defense", if not a good one, that her kids are biologically mixed. The idea that they made those sorts of comments in front of the children they knew full well were adopted from Colombia is, to me, nauseating.
posted by Sequence at 12:36 PM on April 4 [33 favorites]


Interesting article. I feel for her, but I also feel like she's just starting her exploration.

Colombia is more mixed, but there's as much diversity there as in the US. For all we know her biological parents might not speak Spanish between them.

So much conflation between imagined or real connections to nation, citizenship, "race", culture, language, skin color. The labels we don't notice, the labels we can choose from, and the labels that are imposed on us by others according to our skin color, our last names, our accents...
posted by haemanu at 1:34 PM on April 4 [6 favorites]


Call me when anybody who claims to be ethnically Portuguese or Italian gets immediately presumed to be a speaker of those languages the way someone does who mentions being Colombian or Mexican.

Well, I don't have your number, but I live in Toronto and went to school with many Italian and Portuguese kids who all spoke Italian and Portuguese. I honestly can't think of any classmates in elementary or HS who were Italian or Portuguese who didn't speak those languages, but maybe if they didn't speak the language nobody really knew their heritage. I definitely would have thought it odd if somebody said they were Portuguese and didn't speak Portuguese. The kids of my Italian and Portuguese schoolmates on FB seem to speak Italian and Portuguese.

But I missed the part about racist comments, so maybe even though I did RTFA, I should read it more carefully before commenting.

I am white. In the U.S. I would probably be classified as Latinx , though I don't particularly feel like that fits as a racial identity and I don't feel any particular identification to it as a panethnic identity (and I think the word itself is odd, but I figure if I don't identify with the label, I guess I should let the people who do pick the word forms). I do feel attachment to my ethnic identity, but only the one I was raised in, not the one I've had no contact cultural contact with. I do speak Spanish (from birth). I'm teaching my son to speak Spanish.

I guess because I feel like my culture and identity is the culture/identity I was raised in and is not simply based on a strict accounting of the places my genetic material passed before reaching me. It seems like if she grew up eating cod on Christmas eve (or doing whatever other cultural traditions her family had), then it's hard to see she's more culturally Colombian than Italian and Portuguese.

It feels like that weird ancesty.com commercial where the guy trades his bagpipes for leiderhosen because ancestry told him he's German. If you were raised playing the bagpipes and highland dancing in a family that identified as Scottish, you're scottish. A DNA test doesn't make you German. You can decide you want to identify as German after taking the DNA test, but that's your decision, your DNA didn't make you German. To imply that it did is essentialism, as Andrewpcone says.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:40 PM on April 4 [21 favorites]


But she didn't have the choice whether to identify with her parents' cultures or with her own ethnic culture. That choice was taken away from her.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:43 PM on April 4 [19 favorites]


I definitely would have thought it odd if somebody said they were Portuguese and didn't speak Portuguese.

I (in the U.S.) know a lot of people who have a vague sense of ethnic identity as Portuguese or (especially) Italian - their grandparents or great-grandparents were immigrants - but don't speak the language (or picked up a little from family) and are culturally primarily White Americans. Maybe I'm missing something in this article, which I read through pretty quickly, but my assumption was that this was the sort of household she grew up in, and in that case her deciding to learn Spanish as an adult isn't much different than those third-plus generation Italian-Americans deciding to learn Italian for real.

There's a certain weirdness of U.S. (maybe Canadian, too, I wouldn't know) racial classification that's touched upon by this story and the other comments here - that a dark-skinned person with an Italian name can be "white," while a light-skinned person with a Spanish name can be "not white." But it doesn't seem all that weird to me that a person's response to discovering that this aspect of her history was concealed from her would be a compulsion to connect with it.
posted by atoxyl at 2:34 PM on April 4 [5 favorites]


I mean, the one-two punch of being an “assimilated” person of color in the US and in many other parts of the West is that you’re expected to (or forced to, in this woman’s case!) conform to the cultural norms of the white people around you, and that buys you a certain amount of acceptance — just as long as you never get above yourself and forget that you don’t really belong, haha! But if you try and get more in touch with your ancestral/heritage culture, you’re a fakey fake McFaker, why can’t you just accept that you’re a normal American/Westerner and stop trying to be so special? Oh hey, let’s go check out Bob Whiteperson’s Ethnic Restaurant, I feel like he’s really refined that cuisine, don’t you?

Sure, there’s a broader conversation to be had about heritage vs upbringing vs external perception etc etc. But I don’t think the way to have it is to condescendingly armchair quarterback this woman’s experience or her response. To compare a woman of color being lied to her whole life by her racist parents, while dealing with racism on other fronts that she didn’t know how to contextualize or process because the people who should’ve had her back were racist liars, to a fictional white person whose immediate ancestors got their family stories mixed up — those two situations are so far out of the same ballpark they’re different sports.
posted by bettafish at 2:41 PM on April 4 [29 favorites]


This is breathtaking:

Nor do I love the racial essentialism embedded in the author's use of language like "my Colombian culture" and "my langauge," as if her genes or melanin concentration gave her some obvious claim on Colombian-ness.

They do. Those essential facts of her personhood are literally her birthright. The driving compulsion of adult adoptees who search is to find out who they are, because this stuff matters on such an elemental level for so many people.

You might want to spend some time learning about the adoption triad, the inherent power imbalance and loss of rights, the long term effects of these loses on a statistically significant number of adoptees. If you are in the US, feel free to begin at Bastard Nation.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:46 PM on April 4 [18 favorites]



But she didn't have the choice whether to identify with her parents' cultures or with her own ethnic culture. That choice was taken away from her.


This is a strange take, since most people don't have a choice but to play the hand dealt by the union of their parents.

In contrast, she's making the choice herself, something which is probably most legitimately done by someone in her particular circumstance, as tragic and heartbreaking as it may be.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:04 PM on April 4 [3 favorites]


When the course of your life was irretrievably altered by an experience which occurred as a result of your ethnicity, and which is part of a broader cultural phenomenon affecting people of your ethnicity, you sure as shit get to educate white people about issues affecting people of your ethnicity.

And... Jesus wept, this person was literally racially abused in primary school. Of course she has a right to identify as who she is. She IS who she is.
posted by howfar at 4:12 PM on April 4 [16 favorites]


They do. Those essential facts of her personhood are literally her birthright. The driving compulsion of adult adoptees who search is to find out who they are, because this stuff matters on such an elemental level for so many people.

I strongly disagree with identity as "birthright," or "essential facts of personhood." I'm kind of surprised to see that kind of thinking here. It's something I would expect from the identitarian far right.

It is my view that such a model of race is not only simplistic, but dangerous. The interplay between our biological facts, our interpolated identites, our life circumstance, our felt identites, etc, etc are subtle, complicated, and culturally contingent. Calling that stuff a "birthright" or "essential facts" posits a divisive and roughly anti-rational view of humanity as fundamentally split into preordained, irreconcilable identity categories. It's not hard to see how shit goes south from there.
posted by andrewpcone at 4:59 PM on April 4 [24 favorites]


It is my view that such a model of race is not only simplistic, but dangerous.

While race is not real in a scientific sense, it is undeniably real in a social sense because of racism. So, there is a (huge, wide,) incomprehensibly vast difference between far right white "identitarians" using fake concepts of racial purity to terrorize people they don't like, and a young woman of color finding out and affirming who she is after 19 years of being lied to.
posted by coffeeand at 5:26 PM on April 4 [11 favorites]


While race is not real in a scientific sense, it is undeniably real in a social sense because of racism. So, there is a (huge, wide,) incomprehensibly vast difference between far right white "identitarians" using fake concepts of racial purity to terrorize people they don't like, and a young woman of color finding out and affirming who she is after 19 years of being lied to.

I was referring the racial essentialist reasoning in DarlingBri's post above, not the identity of the article writer.
posted by andrewpcone at 5:29 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I am legitimately appalled at the bothsides-ism of that comparison. However, instead of digging into it further I’m going to bow out of the thread for my own mental health. But I appreciate the reminder as to why I always hesitate when I think about recommending this site to my fellow PoC!
posted by bettafish at 5:29 PM on April 4 [20 favorites]


I was referring the racial essentialist reasoning in DarlingBri's post above, not the identity of the article writer.

Well, you opened your participation in this thread by accusing the article writer of racial essentialism:

Nor do I love the racial essentialism embedded in the author's use of language like "my Colombian culture" and "my langauge," as if her genes or melanin concentration gave her some obvious claim on Colombian-ness.

But hey, your insistence on ignoring all the social, emotional, and historical context around Melissa Guida-Richards's discovery of her identity is a pretty good example of the kind of violent colorblindness she talks about in the article.
posted by coffeeand at 6:01 PM on April 4 [19 favorites]


I'm guessing her learning spanish and trying to connect with her columbian-ness is a reaction against how it was previously covered up. I'm not adopted, but if I had parents who tried convincing me i was of some other origin (even something separate from race like "you're chinese... just kidding, you're korean!") it might drive me to delve into that origin, and it probably wouldn't have gone that way if it were out in the open all along.

It is true that being a certain race doesn't really mean you're automatically a member of a culture. Im mixed race and from a multireligious family, so the idea that race/birthplace/culture/etc is all synonymous leads to a lot of "you're not enough of X to call yourself X!" And believe me, I could totally go on a rant about seperatism and biological essentialism in minorities. But i think for many minorities, their ancestral culture is sort of like a little string tied to them, because people in your society will still interract with you as if you were a mini-representative of said race/culture. Like even if you've never set foot in Country X and you've since lost all cultural ties to Country X, if someone hates or exotifies Country X it means they're likely to lump you in with it whether you want them to or not. So although race and birthright is basically made up, it still exists in a way that being blind to it (like in this girl's case) can do more harm than good.
posted by picklenickle at 6:15 PM on April 4 [12 favorites]


I'm guessing her learning spanish and trying to connect with her columbian-ness is a reaction against how it was previously covered up

Yeah, that was my best guess also.

I don't think there's anything wrong per se with what she's doing, I mostly just feel like the whole "you're adopted" thing is SO MUCH bigger than "from Columbia." Like if they'd told her all along she was adopted from some other country (even the U.S.) and then it turned out it was Colombia, it seems like that would be weird and disturbing because why would you lie, but not as big a deal as not ever telling her she's adopted. I just can't imagine if I found out that my mom had adopted me internationally (from Colombia, Italy, Portugual, wherever.... Romania? People I don't know often assume I'm Romanian (And yes, assume I speak Romanian)) that I would be focused on feeling like my ethnicity had changed rather than focusing on how my mom had lied to me about something so fundamental as whether or not she'd given birth to me. Obviously I can't know how I would feel without living it, but just imagining it, I don't feel like it would change my ethnicity.

But obviously this woman isn't me and so that's the part that really seems to bug her and someone who has been so terribly betrayed has the right to feel whatever they feel about it.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:16 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]


But hey, your insistence on ignoring all the social, emotional, and historical context around Melissa Guida-Richards's discovery of her identity is a pretty good example of the kind of violent colorblindness she talks about in the article.

Thing is, she's kind of fucked up, and proceeds to explain how and why in the article. I'll make allowances for her to think what she has to think, but to insist that genes and skin color make one Colombian, (or any nationality for that matter), as done in this thread, is a pretty dark path to travel. Humanity has gone there many times, continues to do so, and usually ends badly. It would be wise to avoid. I not buying the violent colorblindness accusation.

It was completely possible for her to be raised with full disclosure of the culture of her birthplace, the genetic traits of her birth parents. Instead, what was foisted upon her were lies and shame and racism. Her parents perhaps chose to frame it as colorblindness when what they seem to have been doing was dealing with bringing up a child who was a little too dark skinned, a little too Latin American. What they exhibited wasn't colorblindness. It was denial. Maybe they had good intentions. But what they did ended up being hateful, most of all, to their adopted kids.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:26 PM on April 4 [2 favorites]


Getting off-topic a bit, but the things I always tell folks who ask about identity politix as a latin(x) adoptee in the U.S. are:

1) I'm a hack of a white person (even though I would "pass" as light-skinned in a Latin American country) because birth certificate, OG citizenship docs, and original name assert that I'm not wholly white. And say what you will, but those things – and a stuffed donkey – are all I have from my birth mother/family/culture/country. Which ... counts for something.

2) I'm also a phony as a latin person, since I haven't have access to traditional language or cultural signifiers of latin identity, and I've benefitted immensely from a lot of white privilege accrued over a lifetime (by virtue of my adoptive parentage, education, appearance, etc.)

3) As a kid, I heard the phrase "you're basically white" a lot, out of the blue, intended as a compliment, and it was pretty destabilizing every time. It indicated the ways in which I didn't fit as neatly into either white OR latinx buckets, and that I could be escalated to the 'preferable' identity by virtue of my conformity and popularity with my (mostly white) peers. I never solicited this comment, and it when it was delivered it always hinted to me that the person delivering it was thinking – largely unprovoked - about a category of identity I was very hesitant to bring up myself.

4) I have an abiding fear of census forms. My (adoptive) parents are white, but I am not. I've always known that – and so have they. So, on US government forms, if the choices are White/Black/American Indian/Asian or Pacific Islander, I don't think there are really any fitting options.*** I've decided I'm supposed to pick "white" because I'm fairly light-skinned. I pass the paper bag test, by a few shades. And the follow up question 'Hispanic or latino?' causes a minor meltdown. Because... those are cultural/linguistic descriptors, and of cultures/languages that I can't rightly claim as my own.

*** cool fact tho: I took a DNA test and discovered that I'm 1/3 Native (South) American. So now I'm gonna choose that, since it's the best lie of the available lies. Seriously. (Hi, Elizabeth Warren!)

5) When I was a kid, my birth country was the butt of lots of jokes. It was a frequent "evil" locale in action movies. It was poor and violent and politically contested. And every time a joke or a mention of it landed in my vicinity, I had to make a decision about how to respond. Sometimes I defended it, and was punished for reacting (since it wasn't "really" my country any more) and sometimes I let insults/jokes wash over me (doubtless internalizing some of the vitriol). But always, always I marked them. This fact, more than anything else, consolidated my identity as a proud-embarrassed adoptee of that country. While I could've done without the casual ignorance, it turns out that this was super important in the formation of my personal image. I'm sad for kids who are denied this opportunity due to the decisions made for them by others.
posted by mr. remy at 8:08 PM on April 4 [23 favorites]


but to insist that genes and skin color make one Colombian, (or any nationality for that matter), as done in this thread, is a pretty dark path to travel.

I'd appreciate if this line of discussion were saved for another thread. To be clear: I agree with you about race essentialism generally. It skeeves me the fuck out. I don't particularly agree with the author of the piece about what makes a person 'them.' However, I feel this particular line of discussion is counterproductive when talking about adoptees. Since we are on the same side, I'd like to explain why rather than fight about it. Here goes:

I'm nonwhite, but I was raised by a white parent. I'm biracial rather than an adoptee, and my mother was open about our history. So my experience does not map exactly onto the author's here, but there are some key similarities that I believe offer some insight into the situation.

The most important similarity is this: growing up like this means navigating race alone. There's no rulebook. No examples. No helpful adult perspective. It's just you and a bunch of white people and a whole lot of racism. Figuring it all out sucks. I can't even begin to explain how hard that all is to people who weren't in it, but I will note how poorly many people understand and navigate race even with the benefit of examples and explanations.

It seems to me that being adopted could potentially add an extra layer of hell to the whole thing, because a lot of white parents wouldn't appreciate that this is going on at all, and would therefore be unwilling or unable to offer even limited support. The author's case is certainly an egregious example of this problem.

My favorite part is that at the end of the road? You're still alone. You don't belong anywhere: too colored for the US. Too culturally white for the old country. There's nowhere you can belong, nowhere they have to accept you.

All you have is what you build, what you choose.

If some people stuck in that mess want to reconnect with their culture... just let 'em. Adoptees aren't going to be the next big fascist push, and being unmoored in this particular way is something that most people really can't understand.

I can't speak for every single person who backed up the author's choice in this thread, but that's why it's opposites day for me, in this one case. It's not about 'race essentialism is actually cool,' it's about 'adoptees have a right to identify any way they please, whether I agree with the underlying reasoning or not.'
posted by mordax at 8:30 PM on April 4 [35 favorites]


Yeah, I am legitimately appalled at the bothsides-ism of that comparison. However, instead of digging into it further I’m going to bow out of the thread for my own mental health. But I appreciate the reminder as to why I always hesitate when I think about recommending this site to my fellow PoC!

Me: -pokes head into thread-
Me: -sees white people equating a woman of color who has been gaslighted her entire life embracing her background to finally understand and name her life-long experiences of racism, to white people taking an ancestry test and peppering themselves with shamrocks on st patricks day-
Me: -LOUD DISAPPOINTED CACKLING AS I MASH ALT+F4-
posted by Conspire at 8:40 PM on April 4 [12 favorites]


sees white people equating a woman of color who has been gaslighted her entire life embracing her background to finally understand and name her life-long experiences of racism, to white people taking an ancestry test and peppering themselves with shamrocks on st patricks day-

Er...I'm the one who brought up the ancestry test and I think neither the woman in the article nor several people in this thread would classify me as white.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:57 PM on April 4 [2 favorites]


Er...I'm the one who brought up the ancestry test and I think neither the woman in the article nor several people in this thread would classify me as white.

Well, andrewpcone is the one digging the most into this in the thread, and arguing against every point that PoC have brought up in defense of it, and he is.

But just to be more explicit - I've noticed that with stuff like this, whenever people react poorly against this stuff is because they, on some level, think identifying as racialized is a get-out-of-jail-free card. It's not. Just like I have to grapple with anti-black asian racism and with how even though I'm underrepresented with media, I will largely not be shot at by cops in the street, she's going to have to grapple with complicated issues of how upbringing affects her relationship to race, as well as the usual stuff with colorism etc.

But she now gets this tool to connect the experiences she does experience with a larger body of power relations. I'll accept if she's initially clumsy in the way she embraces or wraps rhetoric around this, because this is not the type of thing Western culture teaches PoC to navigate delicately anyway.
posted by Conspire at 9:05 PM on April 4 [12 favorites]


I know a man (a Lodge brother) who was exceedingly proud of his Italian heritage and upbringing. I also knew him to occasionally poke (gentle?) fun at the Portuguese members of our Lodge, who were from the "other" ethnic group of our area.

He literally learned at his mother's deathbed that he was adopted at birth, and was actually Portuguese.
posted by yhbc at 10:23 PM on April 4 [4 favorites]


It is cruel to read a woman of color's painful words about how she has been traumatized and hurt by racism and her adoptive family's racist lies, and then to write a response tsking at her that in having complicated feelings about race, she is somehow doing it wrong. That is casual cruelty.
posted by nicebookrack at 11:33 PM on April 4 [25 favorites]


(even something separate from race like "you're chinese... just kidding, you're korean!")

You know that Chinese and Korean are two different races, right? Not in the US, but in Canada they are different categories on the census when asking about race. (Someone else can answer as to how they are perceived in China and Korea respectively).

Race is totally socially constructed - and the American construction among left and right-wing people is very biologically essentialist, based not on cultural experiences but DNA (you are what you have biological heritage from, regardless of cultural upbringing) - and their own weird categories from history.

Race is constructed differently in other places, including in Latin America.

I'm curious as to how this person's Columbian parents would have conceived of their own race. It's entirely possible they perceived themselves to be white, or perhaps another way entirely.
posted by jb at 6:08 AM on April 5 [4 favorites]


It's not just her genes. It's her literal family. She has parents and cousins and (probably) siblings who all have this culture and background. The fact that she wasn't raised with them doesn't make them not her family. She wasn't made in a test tube from snippets of disembodied DNA; she is from a community. Acknowledging that and trying to connect to it is sad, because it's sad when anyone is separated from their family and community, but it's not racist.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:18 AM on April 5 [8 favorites]


I suspect part of the reason this conversation has gone somewhat poorly is that it brings up a lot of complicated feelings in a lot of people, many of whom might not be expected to relate. Not surprising given that adoption itself can be weird even when it isn't cross-racial. Combine that with the US' almost unique conception of race with an international adoption from a country where black and white as racial identifiers mean something rather different and you've got a great recipe for a very large number of people to feel personally connected to the story and resultant discussion in very different ways that aren't easily reconciled.
posted by wierdo at 6:36 AM on April 5 [3 favorites]


Other adoptees I know don't consider their biological family to be family; their real family is who raised them. (Also true for people I've known with only one known parent - the fully absent father isn't their family).

But, as noted above, different adoptees have different perceptions of themselves, their family, etc. Adding in race complicates things - maybe because while all cultures have different patterns to their racial categories, all cultures do have racial/ethnic categories - and being racialized by interaction with others (in a way not shared by your family) is a constant reminder of your adoptive status.
posted by jb at 7:32 AM on April 5 [1 favorite]


Other adoptees I know don't consider their biological family to be family; their real family is who raised them. (Also true for people I've known with only one known parent - the fully absent father isn't their family).

I am open to adoptees naming and describing how they feel about their family. They were (and still are) the kid in the situation and they get to decide. This thread, though, is a lot of people trying to push that narrative on someone who clearly does not feel that way. She sees her biological family and their community as family. Other adoptees are kind of not relevant to her situation.

I also feel totally comfortable referring to a family who allowed their child to be put up for adoption as that child's "family" unless asked to do otherwise by that person. There's no evidence that the author's birth parent(s) abused or neglected her, or that they abandoned her in the same way as a willingly absent father. Why preemptively punish or devalue their connection or love for their child / family member by insisting that they're not "real"? What is it about allowing your child to move halfway around the country---with strangers, despite the pain and stress of doing so---makes a parent less "real" than one who happens to have the economic resources to raise a child in the US?
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:57 AM on April 5 [7 favorites]


I suspect part of the reason this conversation has gone somewhat poorly is that it brings up a lot of complicated feelings in a lot of people, many of whom might not be expected to relate.

Well, that and the fact that we live in a country with a genocidally anti-latinx executive and a 24/7 anti-latinx hate machine press outlet, but people are always willing to tell latinx people to stop making our ethnicity a "thing"
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:59 AM on April 5 [18 favorites]


You know that Chinese and Korean are two different races, right? Not in the US, but in Canada they are different categories on the census when asking about race.

Canada doesn't have a race question on the census or on StatsCan surveys. The census question asks about "ethnic or cultural origins"
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:04 AM on April 5 [4 favorites]


You know that Chinese and Korean are two different races, right? Not in the US, but in Canada they are different categories on the census when asking about race. (Someone else can answer as to how they are perceived in China and Korea respectively).


I'm part korean, so my throwaway example was coming from my own understanding of asian identity. And yes, race is made up and defined differently depending on the culture you're in. In my mind, if i found out, for example, that the korean part of me was somehow actually chinese or some other east asian country, i wouldn't feel like my race (as i define it) changed because I'm still "Asian" and living the Asian-American experience--but it would change a different part of my identity--one with a bunch of cultural baggage attached to it. So discovering im part-chinese would probably galvanize me to find out more about my chinese background and culture, whereas in my current state, knowing fairly certainly that I'm part-korean and having grown up with various korean cultural aspects in my household has dulled any need to connect further to my korean-ness.
posted by picklenickle at 9:21 AM on April 5 [4 favorites]


Well, that and the fact that we live in a country with a genocidally anti-latinx executive and a 24/7 anti-latinx hate machine press outlet, but people are always willing to tell latinx people to stop making our ethnicity a "thing"

The American government is run by white supremacists and literally in the process of stealing Latinx and other poc children from their parents right now as I type this, but fuck this one lady, amirite

Maybe I'm speaking too broadly, but I don't think the MeFites speaking up in support of Guida-Richards are saying we all agree unilaterally with everything she has to say about racial identity. We're saying that perhaps, just perhaps, a nuanced conversation about identity, ethnicity and race, DNA and heritage, culture and nationality should not start by looking at this woman who's made herself publicly vulnerable in writing about 19 years of racism and gaslighting from her own family and responding by:

- calling her "fucked up"
- suggesting that her experience is meaningfully comparable to a thirty-second commercial about a fictional white person
- stating that because she perceives her identity in a certain way, she's obviously a racial essentialist who wants to impose her own views on everyone else, and that her entirely hypothetical fascism is just as bad as the real atrocities of the far right towards Latinx people specifically and poc in general (see: my first paragraph, also any source of news on the internet other than Breitbart or Fox)
- stating that she's an unrefined American who doesn't understand that racial identity is a construct and she would (maybe!) be "fucking white" in Colombia
- and yet, simultaneously, that her (possibly!) being "fucking white" in Colombia overrides her lived experience in the US as a person of color living under a white supremacist government

This isn't "ooh it's a complex and emotionally sensitive topic, no wonder people are stepping on each other's toes," this is people being blatantly racist and cruel.

I strongly recommend that people in this thread take a look at this MeTa from Conspire three and a half years ago (which I was hoping I'd never have to link back to again!) about how MeFi handles potentially fraught subjects of racial identity and culture. There are many good comments on that thread, but in particular I'd like to refer back to my own observation about the dynamic of white people from outside the US crying imperialism when American poc try to grapple with their own experiences, as well as Ivan Fyodorich's follow-up comment, since that's a dynamic I see as active in this thread.
posted by bettafish at 10:05 AM on April 5 [18 favorites]


People from outside the US in general, rather. Given that we’re talking about an American woman’s experience in the US, I’d say the same dynamic is in play, especially since (as Conspire pointed out upthread) being racialized yourself isn’t a vaccine against being racist towards other people.
posted by bettafish at 10:14 AM on April 5 [2 favorites]


growing up like this means navigating race alone. There's no rulebook. No examples. No helpful adult perspective. It's just you and a bunch of white people and a whole lot of racism. Figuring it all out sucks. I can't even begin to explain how hard that all is to people who weren't in it, but I will note how poorly many people understand and navigate race even with the benefit of examples and explanations.

Nicole Chung just did a piece that touches on this in the Guardian.
posted by praemunire at 10:33 AM on April 5 [5 favorites]


This isn't "ooh it's a complex and emotionally sensitive topic, no wonder people are stepping on each other's toes," this is people being blatantly racist and cruel.

There's also the idea that in the US you get to pick what race you are and this lady is being an asshole by not picking "white." You don't get to pick, by the way, and whatever you as a random individual think someone's race is based on eyeballing them and thinking about it for all of five seconds is not the whole obvious truth about how they experience race in the US. The truth is that if you are in the US and you are not "white" in whatever way, you can and will be coercively racialized (yes, even if your skin is light). If that fact bothers you, the person to get angry at is not the person who is coercively racialized. Even if they, themselves, decide to associate with or name their own race as something besides "white;" even if that decision is based, in part, on the experience of coercive racialization; even if their main similarity with others of their stated race is that they are categorized in the same way by others.

If you want to live in a universe in which saying that someone is Latinx is a neutral descriptor that indicates that someone was raised in a Latinx household, cool. I too yearn for a world in which I (and the author) are not members of a stigmatized and marginalized group but instead, just kinda people being people and having a lighthearted discussion about how funny it is that we grew up eating [ethnic food]. But that is not reality in the US.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:05 AM on April 5 [12 favorites]


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